Opposition Leaders especially in Africa normally emerge after failing to win Presidential elections. This is when they become critical of the activities of the government and hence assume the position of opposition. In Sierra Leone the situation is different as it is now a herculean task to identify the Opposition Leader, especially after the 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. The main thrust of this piece therefore, is to identify who the Opposition Leader is and not the opposition party.
When party politics was re-introduced in 1996, we saw strong political participation which, at the end four political parties stood out to be represented in Parliament. These were the SLPP, UNPP, PDP and APC. Though the SLPP emerged the winner after a coalition with the PDP, the UNPP, under the leadership of Dr John Karefa-Smart effectively occupied the opposition.
Our electoral system looks quite cumbersome and hence under the constituency electoral system, you cannot contest both a Presidential and Parliamentary election. If you contest the Presidential election and looses, you cannot enter Parliament and this automatically disqualifies you for the opposition. This goes for the runner-up in the elections. In the case of the Proportional Representation and District Block System, a Presidential candidate can likewise contest for a Parliamentary seat. That was the case with Eddie Turay and Ernest Koroma when they contested the 1996 and 2002 elections but lost and went on to earn a seat in Parliament. They were clearly identified as Opposition Leaders thus giving them the opportunity to function effectively.
When the Constituency electoral system was introduced prior to the 2007 general elections certain limitations became evident. If a candidate contests in a constituency to become an MP and happens to win the Presidential election, the candidate automatically drops his Parliamentary seat. It all depends on choice whether the candidate wanted to contest on two fronts or not.
This was what President Koroma did when he contested for both the Presidency and Parliamentary seat. The SLPP Candidate, former Vice President Solomon Berewa ran and lost the elections to President Koroma. From all indications and by electoral procedures, since Solomon Berewa was second he should have been the Opposition Leader. However this depends on the arrangements within the SLPP on the election for party leadership. The party has it that if you contest and loose the Presidential Elections, you automatically cease to be the Party Leader; and this implies that you cannot also become Opposition Leader. Hence Solomon Berewa who is supposed to be the Opposition Leader has stepped down as Leader of the SLPP, but principally stands out as the candidate who came second.
The present Leader of the SLPP is Alhaji U.N.S Jah and implicitly, the leader of a party in opposition becomes the Opposition Leader; that also depends if the Leader had contested the elections. In the case wherein the party in opposition has their leader in Parliament it becomes complicated as to who between the two is the actual Opposition Leader.
Hon Momoh Pujeh is the SLPP Minority Leader in Parliament; but when it comes to party level, Alhaji Jah is considered as the Leader of the SLPP.
What is now glaring in the SLPP is lack of control; the absence of a clear command structure. Everyone seems to be on the firing line; from the SLPP Secretary General to MP’s, and former Ministers. Whenever the SLPP want to protest on any issue, a barrage of their membership would converge as if they do not have a leader.
Our present political situation is different, as we have a third party which is in alliance with the ruling party and therefore opposition from their part is not visible. So the responsibility now lies in the hands of the SLPP and the civil society. However, the million dollar question is, who is the opposition leader, is it Hon Momoh Pujeh Minority Leader; Jacob Jusu Saffa Secretary-General or Alhaji U.N.S Jah Leader of the Party?.
By Ishmael Bayoh